Democrat Anita Lopez appeared to be pulling away from incumbent Republican Larry Kaczala early this morning, potentially ending his 13-year stint as Lucas County auditor and adding his name to the list of Republicans knocked out of office yesterday.
Ms. Lopez, who has served as county recorder since 2004, was leading Mr. Kaczala 55 percent to 45 percent with just under 70 percent of the vote counted at 1 a.m., according to unofficial results from the county board of elections.
However, Mr. Kaczala, 49, remained optimistic early today in a telephone interview from his traditional campaign haunt, the Dorr Street Cafe in West Toledo.
"We're always behind with 50 percent of the vote counted," Mr. Kaczala said. "We tend to do very well in the outlying suburbs and we put a lot of money in the the absentee ballots, and those haven't been counted yet. We're still optimistic and we'll just wait up like everyone else to see what happens."
The auditor's race was closely watched by both major political parties because it involved an incumbent Republican office holder in a Democratic county in an election that was widely dominated by Democrats.
Ms. Lopez, 37, watched the results at a friend's home in South Toledo with family and friends before joining her fellow Democrats at the UAW hall.
"We're optimistic that the voters in Lucas County want change and integrity in the appraisal process," Ms. Lopez said with about 28 percent of the precincts reporting that she was up about 20 percent.
The votes show "a desire for integrity and accountability for all residents in Lucas County," she added. "We have pledged we will bring a greater amount of involvement to those going through appraisals."
Throughout her campaign, Ms. Lopez repeatedly criticized Mr. Kaczala for the county's revaluation process, which she claimed was broken, and accused him of swapping political favors with GOP fund-raiser Tom Noe, on trial for the alleged theft of millions of dollars of state investments in a rare-coin fund he managed.
Ms. Lopez called on Mr. Kaczala to give back any money Noe contributed to him over the years and accused him of helping Noe lower his property value in 2001, the day after Noe gave him $1,000 for his campaign for auditor.
Mr. Kaczala dismissed the allegations throughout the months preceding the election, citing the Noe scandal instead as a reason to keep him in office to be the lone Republican in a government ruled by the Democratic party.
The county auditor manages about 150 employees and a budget of about $10 million. With offices spread over two floors in Government Center, the auditor is responsible for paying the county bills, serving as tax assessor, and heading the county's data processing.
Both attorneys by profession, neither candidate is new to the concept of aggressive campaigning. Mr. Kaczala was elected to Toledo City Council in 1991 and served until he was appointed auditor in 1993. In 2004, he took on popular Democrat U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), a race he has since conceded was a mistake that likely tarnished his name.
He also, earlier this year, considered seeking election as a judge on Lucas County Common Pleas Court but decided just before the filing deadline to try a return to the auditor's office.
Mr. Kaczala, on the other hand, has repeatedly criticized Ms. Lopez for not finishing a job. Ms. Lopez served on the Toledo Public Schools Board of Education from 2001 to 2004. Before she finished her term, she ran for Lucas County recorder and was elected in 2004. Her term is set to expire in 2008.
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